Italy Student Blogger Study Abroad

Comparing Cultures: My Independent Study Project

Terreno Winery

Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Gigi George is HECUA’s student blogger for Italy Fall 2021. Gigi is a student at Denison University, majoring in environmental studies. Read on to learn about Gigi’s Independent Study Project.

For my independent study project (ISP), I chose to do a comparative analysis of the United States’ and Italy’s wine production using Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (6-D Model national-culture). The aim of my research was to better understand how cultural, geographical, and historical contexts shape the methods of wine production and, thus, influence the economic, social, and environmental lenses these countries occupy. I believe this topic is relevant because understanding these relationships is crucial for determining the future development and implementation of sustainable policy. 

Terreno Winery
Photo credit: Gigi George

I used a combination of three different methods to understand underlying cultural influences on sustainable agriculture practices and attitudes. In addition to analyzing existing research, I used qualitative case studies in which I interviewed local farmers to have a more well-rounded exploration of farmers’ experiences with the land and, thus, the sustainability of their wine production. For my analysis of Italy, I interviewed Sofia, a winemaker in the Chianti Classico region who operates Terreno–the winery where I had my internship this semester. For my analysis of the United States, I interviewed a winemaker, named Eric, who has a small, family-run winery near Napa Valley. Since wine is so intimately tied to Italian culture, I was curious how attitudes about the land vary and how that variance, in turn, affects the economic goals and environmental awareness of the farmers and their regions. 

Once I gathered results from existing literature and my interviews, I used Hofstede’s cultural dimensions to analyze which aspects of culture influence farmers’ attitudes and their sustainable practices. Hofstede’s 6-D Model (national-culture), a tool which attempts to quantify culture, identifies six dimensions of national culture, each one measured on a scale of 1-100, to better understand how countries converge and diverge culturally. These dimensions include: Individualism (the degree of society’s interdependence), Power Distance (the way power is distributed within society), Uncertainty Avoidance (the way in which society reacts to change), Masculinity (the country’s assertiveness), Time Orientation (connection to tradition or incentive to save) and Indulgence (the extent to which immediate gratifications are satisfied). 

My research, however, only focused on three dimensions—Uncertainty Avoidance, Time Orientation, and Masculinity. I chose Uncertainty Avoidance and Time Orientation because those are two dimensions in which Italy and the U.S. have varying scores. I chose Masculinity because I wanted to analyze one dimension in which Italy and the U.S. have similar scores. By combining the qualitative research—interviews and literature—with the quantitative research—Hofstede’s cultural dimensions—my study included a more well-informed analysis of the influence that culture has on sustainability. 

Based on the two interviews, it was evident that farmers from Italy (Chianti Classico) and the United States (Napa Valley) had varying sustainability perspectives. The result that I found most fascinating was with the Masculinity scores. While I began my research comparing Italy and the United States, I discovered that Sofia was originally from Sweden. So, I decided to add Sweden’s cultural dimensions to my analysis, and I found that they played a big role in her sustainability perceptions and practices. 

Graph of Italy, Sweden, and U.S. cultural dimensions
Photo credit: Hofstede Insights

Sweden has a Masculinity score of 5 meaning their culture values caring for others and quality of life (i.e. the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by society). On the contrary, a score of 100 would indicate a culture that values competition, achievement, and success, with success being defined by a clear winner. When I asked Sofia about the pros and cons of sustainability, she highlighted the value it gives her family’s life and the value she hopes it gives to other people’s lives. Additionally, she emphasized the importance of quality in everything that goes into the winemaking process. Something that Sofia raised during the interview is the fact that her connection to Sweden gives her a unique perspective about Tuscany, which allows her to see values that Italians may not be able to see. For example, the unique composition of the soil or the distinct rolling topography. Thus, the Masculinity dimension of Swedish culture is clearly reflected in her approach to sustainability. 

Although I can’t present all of my analysis in this blog, my study did yield the results I intended. Both Sofia and Eric offered views about sustainability in wine production that not only aligned with their countries’ cultural scores but also supported the existing study about the influence of these dimensions on sustainable practices. Moreover, the research showed how having a combination of two cultures (Italy and Sweden) created a very well-rounded perspective on sustainability because of the balance provided by two approaches. This does not surprise me; however, it was not a result I considered prior to conducting my research. 

Something we’ve learned this semester is that sustainability consists of economic, environmental, social, spatial, and time components. Culture is created by the spatial and time aspects and, in turn, influences and is influenced by the economic, environmental, and social aspects. In other words, culture is embedded within the very concept of sustainability and, therefore, must be acknowledged in any sort of decision making. 

Wine bottles
Photo credit: Gigi George

I concluded my ISP with a discussion about potential policy. While existing policy takes the one-size-fits-all approach to implementing sustainability, my research emphasizes the differences that make this unviable. In order to see successful development, countries must find solutions that fit within their cultural contexts. I also believe, however, that the integration of cultures (Sofia’s position) does have its benefits. Thus, sustainability policy in winemaking should be unique to that region’s cultural dimensions while also leaving room to grow and change. This could look like educational programs that allow farmers to see how their sustainability practices and attitudes differ from farmers in other regions so that there can be an exchange of understanding. 

Yet, policy makers must also recognize that not all farmers are the same, and, therefore, they should take a more localized approach to sustainability. Localized policy can be extremely useful as it allows farmers to see the environmental, social, and economic effects of sustainability first-hand and ties them to their unique regional culture. Ultimately, my research demonstrates the interrelation between sustainability and culture when it comes to wine making, which reveals the ways in which farmers can use their distinctive perceptions and behaviors to create common, localized solutions.

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